New England Style Fish Chowder

This is a great recipe that can be adapted to fit a multitude of soups. The core recipe is pretty simple, but if you wanted to make a clam chowder, you would add in only clams and clam juice, for instance. to see just a few of the variations, check out the list of substitutions at the bottom! I am teaching you Fish Chowder here as it is the more complicated of the variations.

A New England style chowder needs to have a few things in order to really fall in this class. It needs to have a smoked pork product, like bacon or ham, it also needs a white mirepoix, and last, a cream base. Once you have those you can make almost any kind of chowder you can think of!

DSCN0549White mirepoix is similar to the mirepoix you have heard about by now. If not, check the Glossary. What makes it different is we change one of the ingredients, carrots, to a firm potato, and we also change the ratios. 50% Potato, 25% Onion, 25% Celery.

In order to keep the recipe from turning to mush, it is important to select the right kind of potatoes. With all the different types available, even in the most basic of grocery stores, it is very easy to grab the wrong kind. If you were to put Yukon Golds into this soup, they would fall apart and that is not good for a hearty chowder. For this recipe, choose a potato that is firm and has a high starch content, which helps hold it together, I find a basic Idaho baker is the best for the job.

Fish selection can be even more tricky, I mean there are a lot more factors at play. First, lets talk about size. We want a white fish, since we want a traditional, white chowder, and it also should be somewhat large and firm. We want to be able to see large pieces of fish, so lets choose a fish that will hold up, so this takes things like Tilapiya and Flounder out. We also want a fish that has a mild flavor and won’t over power the subtle flavors, so Swordfish, Tuna, and Mahi are out. Last we want to make sure the fish is not a fatty kind that will cause it to flake away. This eliminates things like Salmon (which for flavor and color was gone anyway), and Sea Bass. That doesn’t leave a lot, but Cod, Haddock and Grouper come to mind. Funny enough, they are also the cheapest! Because of the nature of the dish, one can buy frozen and thaw these products, something I would not do if I was serving it as a main.

Selecting the right pot to cook in is going to be key in a soup like this. With a saute method at the beginning we want something that will hold the heat. We also want something that is going to be heavy so it will distribute the heat evenly across the bottom of the pot, something a thin pot, that might have been good for stocks and broths, is not going to do well.

In this case I go with my large Cast Iron, enamel pot. This is a treasure in my kitchen, and I use it constantly, and I mean constantly. Le Creuset makes the best, and if you can afford it, by all means pick a few up. I am fortunate to have an outlet nearby that sells “seconds” (I can’t even tell what’s wrong with them) and I can save close to 50% off retail. I also have slowly built a collection of pots over the last 5 years, spreading the costs out. For this, I will use my first one, the 13 quart French oven.

New England Style Fish Chowder
Makes 8-10 servings

4 tablespoons
3 tablespoons
2 pounds
1 pound
1 pound
1/4 cup
1/2 pound
1/2 pound
1 cup
1 can 12oz
1 can 12oz
1/2 pound
1 quart
1 each
to taste
1 teaspoon
1/2 tablespoon
Butter (sub: bacon drippings work great!)
Firm, White Potatoes, diced 1/2 inch cubes
Celery Small Dice
Onion, Small Dice
Parsley, Fresh, minced
Bacon, diced (ham will work if needed)
Firm white fish, Cod or similar, cut in 1/2” cubes
Dry White Wine
Clam meat in juice
Clam Juice
Shrimp, 90ct (or larger, but sliced down to 1/2”)
Half and Half
Bay Leaf
Salt and Pepper
Thyme, dried
Old Bay
  1. Begin by placing the bacon in the pan and cooking over medium high flame it until it is done, but not crispy.
  2. Add in the Onion and Celery and sauté until translucent.
  3. Add in the butter and the White Fish and sauté for 5 minutes, stirring frequently.
  4. Add in the flour and stir for another minute, Then deglaze with the white wine and clam juice, breaking up as much of the flour as possible.
  5. Add in the half and half and the remaining ingredients, except the parsley, then reduce heat to a very low simmer.
  6. Allow to simmer for about 45 minutes, stirring frequently and watching the thickness. If you find it is getting too thick, you can thin it with some milk.
  7. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and stir in the parsley. If the soup needs to be thickened, a slurry of equal parts water and flour, well mixed can usually solve it. Give it a little time to work, and be sure to mix it in.
  8. Also note that the soup itself will thicken even after cooking and cooling, so you do want it a bit thinner than normal.
  9. Chill immediately, any leftovers and heat up for individual servings later!

Variations on a theme:
Chicken Corn Chowder – Substitute your fish for some chicken, sauté it as you would the cod, and in place of Clam juice, use chicken stock. Add some roasted corn and you have a great soup!

Crab and Corn Chowder – Instead of the fishes, you will use crab meat. Just don’t add it until the soup is done. Any time before that, and it will dissolve away. Use clam juice or substitute a fish stock. I also would up the Old Bay to 1 tablespoon.

Clam Chowder – Drop the fish out of the recipe, and double or triple the amount of canned clams.

Vegetable Chowder – Although a little unorthodox, drop the meats, fish and bacon out. Substitute these for roasted vegetables of the firm variety. (Squashes, zucchini, carrots) Use a vegetable stock in place of clam juices.

Cajun Chicken Chowder – Instead of the bacon, add Andouille Sausage, and substitute the fish with sautéed chicken, and chicken stock for the clam juice. Also drop the Old Bay and add in some Blackened Seasoning to the chicken as you sauté it.

As you can see, the sky is the limit! Once you know the base, mixing it up and making it your own is half the fun!

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One Response to New England Style Fish Chowder

  1. Pingback: No Soup for you! | The Kitchen Hacker

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